Do not chill

Science implores you: don’t put your tomatoes in the refrigerator

June 27, 2014
Obsession
Lifestyle
June 27, 2014

Here in America’s northeast, tomatoes worth eating are finally starting to trickle into the farmers’ markets. Like all the greatest joys of summer, the pleasure of eating a ripe, in-season tomato is a simple one: a drizzle of olive oil and a scattering of salt is all it needs. (On crusty grilled bread, it’s borderline sublime.) But there is one really easy way to ruin these juicy, sweet, sun-kissed fruits, and that is to put them in the refrigerator.

A vine-ripened tomato’s subtly musky flavor—that slight earthiness that makes a tomato slice such a genius component in a BLT—comes from an enzymatic reaction that produces sulfuric aromas, according to Harold McGee‘s scientific food reference book On Food and Cooking. And although those sulfuric aromas are what can make a rotten tomato smell so pungently foul, we should really resist the urge to refrigerate them.

McGee writes that tomatoes originally came from a warm place—the deserts of South America’s west coast—and therefore shouldn’t be stored at arctic temperatures. A tomato subjected to a refrigerator’s cold climate stops producing its aroma-making enzymes and starts to lose its flavor. And while refrigeration evangelists would be right to say that a little bit of that flavor can seep back if the tomatoes return to room temp, you’re likely to end up with a weak-flavored, mealy tomato—especially if it wasn’t fully ripened before it went in the fridge.

We say: better to risk letting the tomato go bad than to chill its magical flavor-making enzymes into inaction in the refrigerator. Or, better yet, just go ahead and eat it.

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